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New Call for Israeli Withdrawal Comes Amid Slew of Terror Attacks

After nearly 17 months of Palestinian violence, more Israelis are beginning to support a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The support comes as prospects for a diplomatic solution to the conflict remain slim, and as the Palestinian resolve to carry out attacks remains strong, despite stepped-up military and diplomatic pressure on the Palestinian Authority.

“There is no military solution to the conflict,” was the refrain heard in newspaper columns and from political figures following a week filled with rocket attacks and terrorist killings.

During the past few days, such attacks included:

A Palestinian ambush in the Gaza Strip on Monday in which three Israelis were killed and four injured. According to Israeli television, Palestinians opened fire on a convoy of cars on a road leading to the Gush Katif settlement bloc. The attackers fired on the cars from close range and may have thrown grenades at them as well. They then set off a bomb when soldiers arrived at the scene.

Also on Monday, a Palestinian killed an Israeli policeman and himself when he detonated a car bomb. The attack took place when police stopped the Palestinian at a roadblock near Jerusalem.

On Saturday night, a suicide bomber killed two teen-agers and wounded 27 people in an attack in a shopping mall in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron. The explosion took place in a pizzeria as people went out at the end of the Sabbath. The attack killed Keren Shatzki, 14, and Nehemia Amar, 17, both from Karnei Shomron. The terrorist, a resident of Kalkilya, belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

On Feb. 14, three Israeli soldiers were killed when a powerful mine blew up beneath their tank in Gaza. The victims were identified as Staff Sgt. Moshe Peled, 20, from Rehovot; Sgt. Asher Zaguri, 21, from Shlomi; and Staff Sgt. Ron Lavi, 20, from Katzrin.

The latest group to add its voice to the unilateral withdrawal call is the Council for Peace and Security, a forum of reserve Israeli army generals and former senior security officials.

Following four months of intensive internal discussions, the council plans to mount a public campaign for a unilateral withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Monday.

About 300 people belonging to the 1,000-member forum took part in the discussions.

According to the paper, various arguments against separation were considered.

These included concerns that a unilateral withdrawal would remove the Palestinian incentive to negotiate with Israel or would be seen as a “retreat” similar to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, and that the council should not be addressing the matter since a withdrawal implies the dismantlement of settlements.

However, as debate continued, about 80 percent of the council members voiced support for a unilateral withdrawal.

The council also called for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state, assuming it would force the Palestinian Authority to change its behavior.

The council’s president, reserve Maj. Gen. Danny Rothschild, told Ha’aretz that he began the discussions “without a formulated opinion.”

“What convinced me is that in contacts I have with the Palestinians through back channels, I have learned from them that the street has taken over the entire moderate camp, and the moderate positions they take behind closed doors change the minute there’s fear that they will be exposed to the threatening street.”

Rothschild said the determining factor in his decision to support the plan was the campaign recently started by reserve soldiers against serving in the territories.

He said a withdrawal also makes sense from a strategic perspective.

“Especially because we are not politicians but people looking at the situation from the security perspective of how to use force, it is clear that the same two jeeps and a tank, which today accompany a settler who refuses to travel on a bypass road, would do much more good if deployed along the seam line,” he said.

Details of the plan appear in a pamphlet entitled “Say Shalom to the Palestinians.” The title plays on the multiple meanings of the Hebrew word “shalom” — hello, goodbye and peace.

The plan’s points include:

The dismantling of 40-50 West Bank settlements, in which about 15 percent of the settler population live;

A full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, except for a narrow zone along the international border with Egypt;

Israel would remain — at least for now — in the Jordan Valley and the Etzion settlement bloc, as well as in Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba, all in the West Bank.

The plan does not address Jerusalem, except for noting that the withdrawal of troops from other locations would allow for greater mobilization around the city.

Opponents of the plan included reserve Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit, a member of the council’s board.

During the discussions, Gazit supported boundary readjustments, but maintained that as many issues as possible should be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians, the paper said.

Gazit’s view is shared by other organizations, which have called for separation but are concerned it will undermine the diplomatic effort.

One lobby is the “peace coalition,” which includes Peace Now and members of the Meretz Party.

At a rally held Saturday in Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis demonstrated beneath the slogan, “Get Out of the Territories.” Speakers appealed for continued efforts to renew the negotiations.

In the meantime, Ha’aretz reported that the Palestinians are aware of the discord in Israeli society and are seeking ways to capitalize on the fissures and increase pressure on the Israeli government.

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